Media Release

Monday, 6th November 2017:
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Health experts gathered at the 2017 Australasian HIV&AIDS Conference in Canberra this week are calling for more to be done to address inequalities in HIV efforts. 

New national statistics released from the Kirby Institute at the conference today reveal that in 2016 over half (55%) of HIV infections in heterosexual people are diagnosed late, with people carrying the infection unknowingly for four years or more. Heterosexuals make up about 1 in 5 of HIV diagnoses in Australia.

HIV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continues to escalate, with new diagnoses now at more than double the rate of Australia’s non-Indigenous population.  This is particularly notable in Queensland where new infections are up 50 per cent in Cairns – and is thought to be connected to a syphilis epidemic.

HIV experts warn that unless urgent action is taken, Australia could follow Canada, where Indigenous people account for 11 per cent of new HIV infections, despite making up just 4.3 per cent of the total population.

These findings are in sharp contrast to the dramatic reduction (31 per cent) of HIV diagnoses seen in gay and bisexual men in NSW in the first half of 2017 alone.

“Whilst we celebrate our successes we must also be aware of the key populations for whom we can and must do better,” said Conference Co-Convenor A/Prof Martin Holt.

“We have seen how policy that embraces the latest science appears to be dramatically reducing new HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men in the eastern states. Now we must consider how to use the same evidence-based approach to address HIV in under-served populations,” he said.

The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) says clinicians have a critical role to play, and more education is needed to help them identify patients for whom HIV and STI screening would be appropriate.

“HIV testing should be considered for all patients – even those who you may not perceive to be part of a priority population, such as, heterosexuals. All primary health care practitioners can make a contribution to this. Diagnosis enables access to treatment, which dramatically improves outcomes and also reduces HIV transmission. Practitioners need to be able to normalise a discussion with patients about having an HIV test, and explain its importance as part of medical care,” says A/Prof Mark Bloch, ASHM President.

Awareness campaigns and prevention strategies, including equitable access to new prevention technologies such as HIV self-testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) are also required.  PrEP is a treatment which prevents people at risk from acquiring HIV, but is currently mainly accessible through clinical trials or personal importing generic drugs.

“As PrEP for HIV becomes more available in Australia and New Zealand, we encourage all of the healthcare workforce to become part of the response to HIV in Australasia,” A/Prof Bloch continues.

“While we can’t all be experts in HIV management, we can all play an important role. Organisations like ASHM can support you in your daily practice by providing the training and tools for you to deliver these critical services”.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, sustaining culturally relevant HIV programs are essential. In many jurisdictions, community-based HIV programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander have faced funding cuts.

“Australia’s progress towards the elimination of HIV as a public health threat has been world-leading.  We have the community-based response, research, and health work force to ensure this remains the case, and that no one is left behind. However, this means ensuring that investment in the response is sustained, particularly for underserved populations.” said A/Prof Holt.


Available for Media Interview

Interview:  Conference Co-Convenor A/Prof Martin Holt

Interview:  A/Prof Mark Bloch, ASHM President

Media Contact:  Petrana Lorenz 0405 158 636


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Conference Program Highlights


​More about the Australasian HIV&AIDS Conference

The Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference is the premier medical/scientific conference in the Australasian HIV and related diseases sector. The 2017 Conference was held in Canberra from 6–8 November, in conjunction with the Australasian Sexual Health Conference.

The conference was first launched in 1989 in response to the emerging area of clinical care for HIV. Since its inception as a small meeting of medical practitioners brought together under the umbrella of ASAP (the Australian Society of AIDS Physicians) the HIV&AIDS Conference has grown into the region’s premier medical/scientific conference in the HIV and related diseases sector, attracting speakers and delegates from around the world.

Since 2005 the Conference has been held back-to-back with the Australasian Sexual Health Conference with one full day of overlap, providing a unique opportunity to look at HIV in the broader context of sexual health. Together, the conferences attract more than 1000 delegates from across the region.

Delegates to the conference come from a range of professional backgrounds including basic science, clinical medicine, community programs, education, epidemiology, indigenous health, international and regional issues, nursing and allied health, policy, primary care, public health and prevention, and social research.

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